Start with Why by Simon Sinek: Notes14 min read

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1-Sentence-Summary: Start With Why is Simon Sinek’s mission to help others do work, which inspires them, and uses real-world examples of great leaders to show you how they communicate and how you can adopt their mindset to inspire others yourself.

Simon Sinek’s first TEDx talk from 2009 is now the 3rd most watched TED talk of all time, sitting at well over 25 million views. I first came across it in 2012 and was instantly hooked on the idea.

The reason his mantra is so magnetic is that it’s incredibly simple, yet very universal – many of history’s most inspiring leaders seem to have internalized his idea of the golden circle and communicate it the right way.

Here are 3 lessons you should take away from Start With Why:

  • If you want to inspire others, always communicate your why first.
  • Excited employees are the best resource for any business.
  • You don’t need sleazy sales tactics when you start with why.

Buckle up, it’s about to get inspirational!

Lesson 1: If you want to inspire others, always communicate your why first.

This is Simon’s key idea in a nutshell: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Every company in the world knows what they do, which is why it’s the first thing they tell people about. But rationale is a weak way of trying to get us to make decisions, probably the weakest of them all.

That’s because emotions trump reason every time. When we make a decision based on a strong why, we own it.

Only when we know why we do things, will we feel a sense of belonging, and that’s why it’s a much more powerful way of getting us to decide.

Once we are sold on the cause of an idea, we’ll go above and beyond to support it, with our money, with our time, and in the cases of some movements, even with our lives.

Great leaders and companies naturally get this right by starting all communication with why they do things, eventually followed by how they do things, until finally revealing what it is they actually do.

Apple is a great example. First they tell us why they’re here to shake things up, then they tell us how (with easy-to-use, beautifully designed products) and finally we find out what they make: computers, phones, tablets and mp3-players.

By the time they get to their what, we’re long sold on their cause and are ready to support them in every way we can.

If you want to inspire others, start by telling them why you do things, instead of what you do, and you’ll see a massive change in engagement.

Lesson 2: The best businesses are built by excited employees.

Which business wouldn’t want their employees to go above and beyond for the company’s success?

The way you do it is by building your business around a cause, and then assembling people who share your why.

Instead of relying on big paychecks, threatening deadlines or highly qualified graduates, look for the people who are already motivated by the same reasons as you are and inspire them even more.

Who would you rather have working for you?

Excel pro Johnny, who’s only here to collect his consulting fee, or Lisa, who needs some time to learn, but wants to see the world change in the same way you do?

Hire people for their cause, not their craft, and watch your business bloom.

Lesson 3: When you start with why, there’s no need for sleazy sales tactics.

Why do companies use sales funnels, red discount signs, limited time offers, and social proof to trick you into buying their products?

Because they work!

But sadly, these kinds of psychological manipulations are just as short-lived as the joy these businesses get from making yet another sale.

They don’t create trust, but evoke skepticism and they sure don’t create trusting or loyal customers.

When you start with why and just communicate from the inside out, you’ll build a group of customers that trust you, true fans, 1000 of which can make your business last a lifetime.

They’ll always prefer the product of their favorite creator or company over cheaper or even better solutions, because they believe in you and your why.

So don’t waste time with sleazy sales tactics, spread your why and let true connections follow.

My personal take-aways

Simon’s TED talk made me question a lot of things, and is one of the many bits and pieces that got me started on the path I am on today – towards freedom and work I’m passionate about.

So first of all: go watch his talk – it’ll change your life or at least your perspective on it.

After reading the summary of Leaders Eat Last already, this had to get a re-run. The set of blinks is short, and I’m really curious to see more of the examples that were used there and in his talk, I’m very much inclined to get the book. He also offers a course, which looks interesting and includes a hard copy of the book. If you want to see Start With Why in action, look at the intro video of the course – Simon is a master of communicating his why

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

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Start with Why Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

The ability to inspire those around you and to achieve remarkable things starts with WHY.

Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why.

Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire.

The Five Big Ideas

Your WHY is your purpose, cause or belief.

Every inspiring leader and organization, regardless of size or industry, starts with WHY

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Knowing our WHY is essential for lasting success and the ability to avoid being lumped in with others.

When your WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty, and inspiration that helped drive your original success.

Start with Why Summary

Great leaders are able to inspire people to act. And those who are able to inspire give people a sense of purpose or belonging that has little to do with any external incentive or benefit to be gained.

“Most businesses today are making decisions based on a set of incomplete or, worse, completely flawed assumptions about what’s driving their business.”

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

“Though positive in nature, aspirational messages are most effective with those who lack discipline or have a nagging fear or insecurity that they don’t have the ability to achieve their dreams on their own (which, at various times for various reasons, is everyone).”

“Peer pressure works not because the majority or the experts are always right, but because we fear that we may be wrong.”

“If a company adds too many novel ideas too often, it can have a similar impact on the product or category as the price game. In an attempt to differentiate with more features, the products start to look and feel more like commodities. And, like price, the need to add yet another product to the line to compensate for the commoditization ends in a downward spiral.”

“Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

For transactions that occur an average of once, carrots and sticks are the best way to elicit the desired behavior.

Every single company and organization on the planet knows WHAT they do. Some companies and people know HOW they do WHAT they do. Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do.

By WHY, Sinek means what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

Every inspiring leader and organization, regardless of size or industry, thinks, acts and communicates from the inside out.

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

When communicating from the inside out, the WHY is offered as the reason to buy and the WHATs serve as the tangible proof of that belief.

“Knowing WHY is essential for lasting success and the ability to avoid being lumped in with others.”

“Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility.”

“When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty, and inspiration that helped drive the original success.”

Instead of asking, “WHAT should we do to compete?” you need to ask yourself, “WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place, and WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life considering all the technologies and market opportunities available today?”

“No matter where we go, we trust those with whom we are able to perceive common values or beliefs.”

“We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe. Their ability to make us feel like we belong, to make us feel special, safe and not alone is part of what gives them the ability to inspire us.”

“Companies that fail to communicate a sense of WHY force us to make decisions with only empirical evidence.”

“Great leaders are those who trust their gut. They are those who understand the art before the science. They win hearts before minds. They are the ones who start with WHY.”

“If a company does not have a clear sense of WHY then it is impossible for the outside world to perceive anything more than WHAT the company does.”

“When the WHY is absent, imbalance is produced and manipulations thrive. And when manipulations thrive, uncertainty increases for buyers, instability increases for sellers and stress increases for all.”

“For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs.”

“Only when the WHY is clear and when people believe what you believe can a true loyal relationship develop.”

“The goal of business should not be to do business with anyone who simply wants what you have. It should be to focus on the people who believe what you believe.”

“When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges.’

“Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain.”

“When employees belong, they will guarantee your success. And they won’t be working hard and looking for innovative solutions for you, they will be doing it for themselves.”

“What all great leaders have in common is the ability to find good fits to join their organizations—those who believe what they believe.”

“Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”

“The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”

“If the people inside a company are told to come to work and just do their job, that’s all they will do. If they are constantly reminded WHY the company was founded and told to always look for ways to bring that cause to life while performing their job, however, then they will do more than their job.”

“When people come to work with a higher sense of purpose, they find it easier to weather hard times or even to find opportunity in those hard times.”

“Energy motivates but charisma inspires. Energy is easy to see, easy to measure and easy to copy. Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.”

“Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY.”

“Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY—our driving purpose, cause or belief—never changes.”

When a WHY is clear, those who share that belief will be drawn to it and maybe want to take part in bringing it to life.

“Don’t forget that a WHY is just a belief, HOWs are the actions we take to realize that belief and WHATs are the results of those actions.”

“For every great leader, for every WHY-type, there is an inspired HOW-type or group of HOW-types who take the intangible cause and build the infrastructure that can give it life.”

“For a message to have real impact, to affect behavior and seed loyalty, it needs more than publicity. It needs to publicize some higher purpose, cause or belief to which those with similar values and beliefs can relate. Only then can the message create any lasting mass-market success.”

“Clarity of purpose, cause or belief is important, but it is equally important that people hear you.”

“For a WHY to have the power to move people it must not only be clear, it must be amplified to reach enough people to tip the scale.”

“A clear sense of WHY sets expectations. When we don’t know an organization’s WHY, we don’t know what to expect, so we expect the minimum—price, quality, service, features—the commodity stuff. But when we do have a sense for the WHY, we expect more.”

“A symbol cannot have any deep meaning until we know WHY it exists in terms bigger than simply to identify the company.”

“For a logo to become a symbol, people must be inspired to use that logo to say something about who they are.”

“If WHAT you do doesn’t prove what you believe, then no one will know what your WHY is and you’ll be forced to compete on price, service, quality, features and benefits; the stuff of commodities.”

“It is not just WHAT or HOW you do things that matters; what matters more is that WHAT and HOW you do things is consistent with your WHY.”

“If a company tries too many times to “seize market opportunities” inconsistent with their WHY over time, their WHY will go fuzzy and their ability to inspire and command loyalty will deteriorate.”

“Achievement comes when you pursue and attain WHAT you want. Success comes when you are clear in pursuit of WHY you want it.”

“For passion to survive, it needs structure. A WHY without the HOWs, passion without structure, has a very high probability of failure.”

“If you give people the right tools, and make them more productive, then everyone, no matter their lot in life, will have an opportunity to achieve their real potential.”

“When people know WHY you do WHAT you do, they are willing to give you credit for everything that could serve as proof of WHY. When they are unclear about your WHY, WHAT you do has no context.”

“Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention.”

“There is a difference between running with all your heart with your eyes closed and running with your all your heart with your eyes wide open.”

“When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.”

“What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves? What if the goal was to do better work this week than we did the week before? To make this month better than last month? For no other reason than because we want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it?”

Recommended Reading

If you like Start with Why, you may also enjoy the following books:

The Dip by Seth Godin

Drive by Dan H. Pink

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

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